To all those out there who have either been members of, or been exposed to the Jewish youth group B’nei Akiva, the title of this post will immediately strike you with what will most likely be a fond and warm recognition. Although the practice of my faith has a lot to be desired, the rallying cry of Torah v’Avodah seems more important to me today than maybe any other time in my life.
Some of you reading this will have shared some fun times with me when I was part of the organization as a teenager in Philadelphia and London and belonged to what was called, Shevet Amichai, literally the “Tribe of Amichai” based on the names given to each age group. I have no trouble admitting my reasons for being a member were social more than anything else. There were the few, such as the late great Ari Horowitz, or my dear friend Danny, that seemed to be motivated by some idealism at that age, but for me it was simple. It was about the girls and the fun gatherings of friends.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to do with B’nei Akiva. My last memory was one I should be somewhat ashamed of, but seeing as it was over 30 years ago and no one got hurt, I look back at it with more amusement than shame. Me and 3 other friends, 2 from Dublin Ireland and one from Liverpool went to the small town of Petach Tikvah, right outside of Tel-Aviv, went to a B’nei Akiva gathering and falsely portrayed ourselves as the heads of branches. Two in Dublin, one in Liverpool, and myself in London, where I was a member of the organization from 1976-1980. It worked like a charm. We achieved a degree of celebrity status for the day and each of us had dates with some of the cutest girls in the group for one very enjoyable summer Saturday night. It was all in good fun, not all that serious, and went no further than that.
Today I think of B’nei Akiva, and being significantly more mature than I was 30 plus years ago, the 2 words that represent the group have a far greater importance than ever before. Jewish unity is critical. Everyone needs to do something during this very difficult time in our history. It is my feeling that what makes the term Torah v’Avodah so poignant today is that no Jew who genuinely cares about the Jewish people and the State of Israel has an excuse not to at least choose one or the other. If you are a dedicated and practicing Jew who follows the laws and listens to and studies Jewish teachings(TORAH), then you are strengthening the Jewish people. If you question religious dogma or philosophically struggle with Jewish practice, that should not stop you from making some efforts or working (AVODAH) towards helping Israel and the Jewish people. And which ever one you choose, unless it is both, I implore you to show respect towards those who choose the other. For without unity we are lost.
And then there is that one lesson I learned from being part of B’nei Akiva even when I was just there for the girls. That the future of the Jewish people is tied to the State of Israel. Something all Jews need to realize today more than any other time in my lifetime.